Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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March 14, 2013

New pope makes history

Local clergy excited by ‘surprise’ choice

JACKSONVILLE — “The Holy Spirit likes to surprises us.”

Less than a day after Roman Catholic cardinals met in conclave to elect their new leader, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was elected the 266th pope on Wednesday.

Bishop Joseph Strickland, head of the Diocese of Tyler, of which Cherokee County is a part, said the announcement was surprising in both how quickly it came and that it was someone unfamiliar.

“The average (time to elect a new pope) is about three days, so this did happen quickly, especially for a new name,” he said, “But I think it's great day for the church, because it is another sign that the church is alive and well, and the Holy Spirit is alive and well and continues to surprise us, and all of that is a great blessing.”

The bishop admitted his surprise that a cardinal from the southern American hemisphere was elected.

“I hadn't even heard his name mentioned, but in some ways, that is good – the Holy Spirit likes to surprise us,” he said.

Father Mark Kusmirek, pastor of Jacksonville's Our Lady of Sorrows Church, said he and his associate pastor, Father Elpidio Lopez, who hails from Cuba, also were surprised – and delighted – at the announcement.

“We didn't hear the first name – we thought they said another cardinal's name, so it surprised us when they announced” that a South American prelate was named pontiff, Father Kusmirek said.

He added that the new pope – who has taken the name Francis I – brings a new face to the church, which numbers some 1.2 billion Catholics across the globe.

According to a recent BBC report, approximately 41 percent of this population – 483 million – hails from Latin America.

“The first non-European pope certainly broadens the sense of the church in the world by a tremendous amount, but (at the same time) it allows the church to continue to bringing its expressions to the faith,” Father Kusmirek said.

Both he and the bishop called the name “Francis” significant, because it calls to mind the 12-century saint beloved by man.

“It brings truly a new face to the church,” Father Kusmirek said.

“It's a brand-new name for a pope, and it's a name that speaks to many people. I think that's a great sign,” Bishop Strickland said, adding that the saint's “famous mandate was to build God's house.”

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